What is dementia?
Dementia is a group of symptoms related to the decline of brain functioning. Signs of dementia often include:
- Slower thinking speed
- Memory loss
- The decline of mental sharpness
- Using words incorrectly
- Trouble understanding
- Mood swings
- Difficulty doing daily activities
The symptoms of dementia become more apparent and worse over time, and often in the late stages people lose independence completely and their ability to communicate.
Types of dementia
There are many different types of dementia, but there are five that affect the most people nationally.
Alzheimer’s Disease – This is the most common form of dementia, making up around 60% of UK diagnoses, and the name most people think of when hearing about Dementia. Alzheimer’s has a significant impact on memory, cognition and emotion. Symptoms include:
- Mood Swings
- Loss of things
- Poor Judgement
Vascular dementia – Vascular dementia is the second most common form of dementia, with around 17% of people diagnosed with it. This form is usually from brain damage caused by blood and oxygen getting cut off from entering the brain. Usually, this is because someone has had a history of strokes or severe injuries to the brain. It can cause a rapid decline in a person’s brain function, with symptoms including:
- Memory loss
- Speech problems
- Not recognising familiar sights
- Frequent mood swings
Frontotemporal dementia – This form of dementia is common in people under the age of 65, affecting people as early as in their 30s. This form affects behaviour and emotion primarily but can show memory decline. Symptoms include:
- Behaviour changes
- Lack of inhibitions
- Trouble speaking
- Problems with movement, such as shakiness and muscle spasms
Lewy Body dementia – Refers to two related diagnoses; dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) and Parkinson’s disease dementia. Both diagnoses have similar affects on the brain and overall symptoms. Lewy Body dementia progressively affects motor control, behaviour, and movement. Symptoms include:
- Unpredictable changes in alertness
- Severe loss of thinking abilities
- Muscle rigidity
- Shuffling walk and balance problems
Mixed dementia – Every one in ten people with dementia have a diagnosis of more than one type or what is referred to as ‘Mixed dementia’; this means they have active signs of different forms of dementia.
Why do people with dementia struggle to tell the time?
As brain function declines, the logical cognition parts of the brain used for telling time gradually stop functioning, meaning when a person with dementia looks at a regular clock face, they may not remember how to read it. Not reading time means people can easily lose track of time, month, or even season. So much of our life is focused on telling the time; without this knowledge, people become confused, anxious, and angry and lose a part of themselves.
Being able to read and draw a clock face is often one of the tests doctors use to determine a diagnosis of dementia. It involves drawing a clock face on a blank piece of paper – adding the numbers in the correct places, and drawing the clock hands indicating a specific time. Doctors look at elements of the clock drawing to determine the likelihood of dementia – such as how well they drew the circle, the spacing between the numbers, and whether they drew the hour and minute hands pointing at the correct time.
The clock test has an accuracy between 59% and 85% in determining early-stage dementia. However, the clock test cannot distinguish between different forms of dementia.
What are the benefits of a dementia clock?
Dementia can be overwhelming for the person with dementia and their loved ones alike, but there are plenty of ways to make life a little easier – including owning a dementia clock. These specialist clocks come in different forms from simple analog clocks with large text and numbers, to a talking button clock or alarm clock with a large digital display screen.
Along with struggling to read a clock face, dementia can cause people to start forgetting things they did in everyday life, such as appointments, seeing friends and family, and whether or not they have taken medication. A dementia clock is different to a traditional clock, as they’re a helpful tool for people to feel more orientated with everyday life when they cannot read a familiar clock. These clocks usually display information on a highly visible round clock face. Dementia clocks can assist in everyday tasks by simply stating the day, month, year and whether it is morning or evening. Dementia clocks can also be customisable so appointment alarms can be set and notes about urgent priorities can be written.
Keep in mind – if a dementia clock becomes an integral part of a daily routine or a source of comfort, it’s important that it continues to work correctly. Some clocks come with a battery backup feature which can be helpful in the event of a power cut, for example.
What are different types of dementia clocks available?
There are many types of specialist clocks for people living with dementia, but the choice of clock should depend on the stages of dementia someone is experiencing and which kind of dementia symptoms they have.
- Day Clocks – These clocks focus on the day, whether it’s morning, afternoon or evening, and the day of the week. The simple design doesn’t usually tell the actual time of day but are helpful for those who feel disorientated when they can’t tell the difference between day and night.
- Day/Night clocks – Display the time with a background representing whether it is day or night, showing the sun and a blue sky during the day, and then a black sky with stars when it’s night time. These are often a popular choice for bedside clocks, and may help minimise certain sundowning behaviours.
- Analogue wall clocks – These usually feature a larger than average clock face and bold, high-contrast numbers and clock hands that can be easier to read and comprehend. As it can become more difficult to read a traditional clock face as dementia progresses, these clocks may not be suitable for people with middle to late-stage dementia.
- Digital clocks – These simple clocks have a large LCD display that shows the time, and sometimes the day of the week and the date. These clocks can also be programmed to have reminders of tasks to do at certain times of day, such as taking medication, and a range of custom alarm options, such as recording personalised messages in a familiar voice. They’re ideal for people who struggle with their awareness of time and often miss appointments or events.
- Digital Calendar clocks – Many digital clocks show the exact time and date, however, a calendar or week clock also displays the week, month, year and season. More elaborate clocks may also display weather information too, which can be useful for those who struggle with getting dressed in the right clothing in the morning. Confusion is a key concern for those with dementia, these types of clock usually display the current time of day prominently, with any additional information in smaller text. These clocks are useful for people with dementia who believe they may be in the past.
- Talking clocks – A talking clock will tell the person the time or date. They often come in the form of a single large function button which the user presses when they want to know the time – this makes these types of clock a popular choice for people living with vision impairment too. Current digital tools like the ‘Alexa’ can also notify users of current events and updates using voice commands.
Where can dementia clocks be bought?
In recent years dementia clocks have become more popular; therefore, you can easily purchase them from several different retailers, including the charity Alzheimer’s society, which stocks a range of dementia clocks. Research the type of clocks you may need and read customer reviews to ensure you purchase the most suitable clock for yourself or your loved one.
How else can I help my loved one manage dementia symptoms?
How else you help manage dementia symptoms depends on the individual. Focus on what the person still has rather than what they have lost. Try to see things from their perspective and recognise what eases their stress.
Other than the practical strategies to help, such as dementia clocks and setting reminders or prompts, you can also use social strategies to help ease their symptoms. Social strategies can include taking them to socialise with friends or family, helping them carry on with their usual hobbies or joining new activity groups. Also, focus on the positives in everyday life by using humour and still being able to spend time together.
Making sure your loved one sticks to a routine can also be helpful if they struggle with time, confusion and generally not feeling orientated. For example, always prepare food for them at the same time each day and ensure they wash at the same time every morning or evening; this will allow them to at least know what time of day it is.
Read more about dementia
Dementia Action Week is Alzheimer’s Society’s awareness campaign, which runs yearly to encourage people to ‘act on dementia’. At Elder, we want to shine